Designer Eating in Vancouver

Mark Busse, February 07, 2021 at 11:26 AM
Travel is often defined by memories of food. Perhaps it's the multi-sensory aspect of the experience, but it's often the meals and snacks we try when on an adventure to some far away place that stick with us the longest. If the myriad of food blogs and online banter about its food culture is any indication, Vancouver is a wonderful place to visit, ripe with memories for the making.

With so many people arriving in Vancouver this month for the 2010 Winter Olympics, followed by numerous designers converging this spring for Design Currency: Icograda Design Week Vancouver 2010, many will be wondering where to eat while in town. This brief overview should give new visitors some ideas where to go.

For those visiting Vancouver for the first time, rest assured that there are numerous choices for all palates and moods. There are numerous affordable restaurants for those craving classic French, such as Les Faux Bourgeois, Pied-a-Terre and Cassis, and for those seeking a traditional Italian meal without breaking the budget, Campagnolo and Lupo await.

For those unafraid to spend a bit more on classic European cuisine with a Pacific Northwest flare, Bishop's, West, Lumiere, Cioppino's, Il Giardino and Boneta are all excellent choices.

If seafood is what you're after, Vancouver's location on BC's west coast has produced some of the highest quality sushi and seafood restaurants in the world, such as Tojo's, C Restaurant and Blue Water Café.

For those seeking a quality breakfast to kick-start the day, three unique choices worth trying are Café Medina, Elbow Room and Deacon's Corner, each featuring excellent food combined with unpretentious ambiance.

Many define a city's culinary cred by its Mexican offerings, and Vancouver won't let you down. Favourites of mine are Mexico Rico, Doña Cata, and La Taquieria—each serving authentic home-made tacos that'll remind you of that warm vacation a couple years ago.

For those uninterested in pub food, but seeking terrific beer selections to accompany a delicious, European-inspired meal, Alibi Room, Stella's and Chambar await. These three spots are particularly popular with Vancouver's designer set.

All of the above recommendations will satisfy even the most discerning traveling gastronome, but to be honest these are the obvious picks, straight out of any travel guide or Google search, leading culinary experts like Epicurious to name Vancouver the top food city of 2010. But peel back a few layers and a visitor can discover a "real" Vancouver culinary experience.

Vancouver has been enjoying a culinary renaissance recently, with international media singing the praises of restaurants emphasizing fresh, local ingredients and a modern culinary approach unfettered by food trends. Vancouver diners have never seemed terribly impressed by overly fancy decor, squeeze-bottle and foam presentations, or molecular gastronomy gimmickry. A friendly and casual attitude pervades the Vancouver restaurant scene, with unpretentious decor and customer-oriented service defining most culinary experiences.This isn't Las Vegas or New York.

One trend that has endured (thankfully) has been a casual approach to cuisine inspired by bistros, brasseries and izakayas, where charcuterie and tapas-sized portions make dining more like an exploration than just ordering an appetizer, main and dessert. Restaurants like Salt, Divino, and Au Petit Chavignol offer cured meats and a variety of rare cheeses paired with local wines.

If a keen traveler to Vancouver is really seeking the quintessential Vancouver culinary experience, it has to be Asian. There's just no way around it.

Vancouver has long been Canada's most Asian-influenced city, with well over 30% of its population made up of Asians from China, Japan, Philippines, Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, India, and Pakistan. These cultures brought with them rich culinary traditions that Vancouverites have been enjoying for decades.

In fact, the Asian food is so good in Vancouver, that Condé Nast Traveler Magazine, recently opined "Vancouver is home to the best Chinese food in the world." You read that correctly—THE BEST CHINESE FOOD IN THE WORLD. Eager to prove them wrong? Grab a group and pop into Sun Sui Wah for some dim sum, over to Lin Chinese for Xiao Long Bao, or Sha Lin Noodle House for authentic Chinese noodles made before your eyes.

If it's Japanese flavours you crave, worry not, Vancouver has arguably the best sushi outside of Tokyo, although it's the recent appearance of izakayas that has been most exciting, with outstanding—and surprisingly affordable—cuisine being served at Guu, Kingyo or my favourite Hapa Izakaya—each offering an authentic Japanese dining experience devoid of any formality or even ubiquitous sushi often expected.

There's something wonderful about being created by the loud welcome yell of "Irashaimase!" from kitchen staff as you walk in the door—it's feels so Vancouver. And although Japanese will explain that izakayas are basically Japanese pubs, they lack many similarities other than a casual attitude, music playing, and small share plates with excellent drink options. If pubs are like this in Japan, I might be living in the wrong country!

There are numerous wonderful choices for Indian food scattered throughout Vancouver, such as Maurya and Chutney Villa for instance, but all seem to pale in comparison to Vij's, which was called "easily among the finest Indian restaurants in the world" by New York Times food critic Mark Bittman. And let me tell you one thing about Vij's others may not—it's NOT just the food that makes this restaurant special. The passion, dedication and love that Vikram and Meeru Vij and their talented staff put into the entire experience makes each dinner at Vij's unique and memorable. Reservations are verboten, but it's worth standing in line for an hour (sipping on chai and enjoying complimentary snacks mind you) just to taste the lamb popsicles alone. I cannot recommend this restaurant enough.

Like most Vancouver restaurants, Vij's offers numerous vegetarian dishes (the kitchen staff are all vegetarians actually). In fact, Vancouver has a minor reputation as a "hippy-esque" city (no, we don't all smoke pot and smell of patchouli oil) and therefore one can find numerous vegetarian offerings at nearly every restaurant, with some being exclusively vegetarian, such as The Naam, Annapurna (Indian), and Bo Kong (Chinese).

There are so many Asian restaurants I could recommend to visitors to Vancouver, but I will suggest a small handful more. For those interested in a genuine "mom and pop" experience, try Legendary Noodle for homemade lamb soup with noodles. For those not interested in paying premiums costs for Tojo's sushi, you can get the next best thing at Toshi for half the price.

For the best bowl of authentic ramen you ever had for $8, you must try Kintaro. If Vietnamese is what you crave, there are many wonderful options scattered about the city, but you won't regret a trip up Main Street to Au Petit Café for a delicious steaming bowl of Pho or curry beef brisket stew and a Ban Mi sandwich on freshly baked French bread. This place is one of my all time favourites.

For Malaysian food that will take you back to that trip to Singapore, don't leave before eating at Banana Leaf. Or for some top drawer Thai cuisine you won't soon forget, trek over to Maenam on 4th or a little further west to Montri's on Broadway.

Another izakaya-style spot worth a visit is Zakkushi, which specializes in charcoal grilled barbecue. And finally, two of Anthony Bourdain's favourite Vancouver spots are the Cambodian/Vietnamese Phnom Penh, and JapaDog, easily the most interesting "street food" option in Vancouver, literally a hybrid between the classic hot dog and Japanese flavours and ingredients.

Of course there are many other cultures and cuisines to entice the hungry traveler, but many new visitors visiting Vancouver for the first time are surprised to learn that the aboriginal population is quite low (less than 3%)—regardless of the use of an Inukshuk for the 2010 Winter Games logo—and as such there are virtually no First Nations restaurants. This is a shame as aboriginal food would be the original, and obviously most authentic expression of Vancouver's culture to new visitors to the area. [UPDATE: In a recent Vancouver Sun article called Three To Tree, Mia Stainsby makes reference to a brand new First Nations restaurant on Broadway called Salmon 'n' Bannock—worth checking out!]

In 2009, Vancouver was again crowned "the world's most livable city in the world" by The Economist, and certainly its cuisine contributes to the attraction it holds for so many. It's also a city filled with design professionals of all kinds, most of them obsessed with food, so it's a good place for us to live, work and eat. The city is vibrant and active, and most restaurants stay open quite late, which is convenient. I hope while attendees of Design Currency 2010: Icograda Design Week Vancouver this April get a chance to explore the rich landscape of Vancouver's culinary scene. Good eating!

In hindsight, and considering how much designers enjoy a drink or two (or seven as the case may be), perhaps I should have written an article on where to DRINK in Vancouver!

[Photo credit: ecstaticist / Evan Leeson, who is not only a web designer and photographer, but a passionate member of, a Vancouver-based food collective]


Ben Garfinkel(3 months ago)
Awesome list. Of course you can't ignore that some people who travel like to shop and cook for themselves too. For that, you'll want to refer to the Where Foodists shop in Vancouver map! Enjoy.

Phyllis(2 months ago)
Great post! All my favorites in this list, Phnom Penh is a must visit everytime I'm in town and Banana Leaf is the only place I've ever found decent laksa. And what a shame about there being no First Nations restaurants in Vancouver now that Liliget on Davie has closed. I guess visitors will just have to make do with the samples from the Aboriginal pavillion during the Olympics!

Cookin' Canuck(2 months ago)
I'm so excited to find your site and read all of your recommendations! Let me tell you - I am now thoroughly homesick for Vancouver.

missin' vancouver(2 months ago)
I miss living in Vancouver . . . especially the eating. Don't forget the Spanish Tapas bars as well . . . nothing like going to La Bodega for a quick bite then heading out for a night on the town.

tractoare de vanzare(2 months ago)
House and food are to things that define the people. Whitout this thing people don tthink at anything else.

Michael Kwan(2 months ago)
As much as I like Au Petit Cafe (their subs are great), it's not exactly the best place to go for Vietnamese food. It's run by Chinese people and the pho is far from the best in town. I much prefer Pho Thai Hoa on Kingsway.

David Coates(2 weeks ago)
Fantastic list Mark. I would add Burgoo to the list for fantastic comfort food. And a warning that Hapa Izakaya has gone waaaay downhill in the past year IMHO. Zakkushi is the place for Japanese tapas - and just down the hill on Denman. Again, MHO.

Adrian Shum(2 weeks ago)
Man, I can't wait to visit some of these restaurants... I'm not sure if I'm more excited about Design Week or the amazing restaurants! Argh... decisions, decisions. ;)

Mark Busse(2 weeks ago)
Just stick close to me Adrian, and you'll do fine. Or scour for more tips and opinions. Follow the Twitter account @Foodists for some good hints too. See you in Vancouver very soon!

Mark Busse(2 weeks ago)
Just stick close to me Adrian, and you'll do fine. Or scour for more tips and opinions. Follow the Twitter account @Foodists for some good hints too. See you in Vancouver very soon!

teste(1 day ago)
Food blogs are the important in my opinion.On this blogs we find out what is healty to eat and what is not healty for us.